Dan Mangan performs on the South Millennium Stage at The Kennedy Center on Jan. 28, 2023. (Photo by Casey Vock)
With all the challenges faced in recent years by the live music industry, it’s become a special occasion to take in a performance from an international guest.
Conversely, for artists who are so fortunate to tour the USA and to make a stop in the nation’s capital, it’s a valuable and important chance to make yourself known to a music-minded city and to leave a lasting impression.
Dan Mangan, a heralded folk and indie rock musician based in Vancouver, recently gave a convincing demonstration of how a solo artist might best maximize the time and the opportunity to play a Millennium Stage show at The Kennedy Center.
Mangan made the stop at the massive arts and entertainment facility the night of Jan. 28 as part of a small but ambitious continental tour sending him to Toronto and Brooklyn before the DMV. All small shows intended to be intimate, they round out this week with gigs in LA and then back in British Columbia — a bit of a tease from this 39-year-old Juno award winner and current nominee who now has seven studio albums in his catalogue.
Listen to Dan Mangan’s JUNO-nominated 2022 studio album, Being Somewhere, via Spotify:
All by himself, with just his Epiphone acoustic in hand, the thoughtful and good-natured songwriter took the South Millennium Stage before a seated crowd, and he’d immediately endear the room with his dry humor and friendly smile.
“You are all looking well — should I be wearing a tux?”
He was his natural self, in a button-down shirt and with light scruff on his face. He made a list of tunes, but only to get himself started. He’d intended to make this run of shows comfortable, planning to play a few songs and then entertain requests.
“I have a list of songs, but it’s just reminding me of the songs that I know. … I’ll stop gabbing and play as many songs as I can in 50 minutes.”
Opening with “Just Know It” from his 2022 release Being Somewhere — nominated this week for The Juno Awards Adult Alternative Album of the Year — Mangan’s voice presented itself as a whispering, spiritual expression for this beautifully anxious example of the music he brings to life.
After sharing an appealing, stripped-down version of “Cold In The Summer,” one of Dan’s popular songs from his 2018 album More or Less, he called out his own line about the “quarter-life blues” as a bit of stretch in comic reflection on words written prior to the pandemic years.
Speaking to the dimly lit corridor, with onlookers standing in the back and even seated up on the steps to his right, Mangan seemed to speak earnestly as he shared the backstory to another of his enduring tracks, “Road Rage,” the opening to 2009’s Nice, Nice, Very Nice.
“I was on my first tour down to Austin, Texas,” he recollected. “I borrowed my mom’s car, and I was going to the South by Southwest festival, and I was destined for discovery but subsequently was not discovered at all. But it was important — to do things that are hard, even if the reward doesn’t seem like it’s anywhere in sight, to just kind of keep at it, and keep at it, and keep at it, and who knows, cool things might happen.”
His heartrending and inspiriting offering of encouragement was followed by a stunning, brave performance of this piece, one that saw him soar and accentuate a strikingly clear intonation that likely turned heads at the opposite end of the hall.
Mangan would share more favorites, including a marvelous take on “Lay Low” before eventually imploring ticketholders to call out their requests, and they were fired at the talented Canadian from all angles.
“Maybe I bit off more than I can chew here,” he grinned, and giddy fans kept flinging hits as well as lesser-known titles in his direction.
Dan’s a busy fellow who additionally creates scores for movies and television, and he would entertain a slice of the requests that came at him in DC, providing a fan’s glimpse into the greater depths of his songwriting.
Watch Dan Mangan’s full Jan. 28, 2023 performance on the South Millennium Stage via The Kennedy Center’s YouTube channel:
“About as Helpful as You Can Be Without Being Any Help at All,” a mouthful of a title from 2011’s Oh Fortune, featured Dan’s astute lyrics and a powerful yearning and hunger in his frequency. “The Indie Queens Are Waiting,” a piece inspired by long hours in coffee shops, wondering about total strangers, translated to yet another delightful solo take, with Dan’s verdant soul as the source.
“I feel like it took me a long time as a songwriter to effectively put my opinions out in the world,” he shared and then rewarded those in attendance with what is a forthcoming track from his next record, a song he’s named “Soapbox.”
Mangan would eventually shake things up, perhaps altering artists’ approach to playing on either Millennium Stage forevermore. Grabbing from backstage his trusty orb-style standing light that follows him from show to show, Dan walked it out into the audience, stopping at the hallway point and settling off to one side, where he hopped up on a chair and faced the whole room from his bright nook.
“This has been a blast,” he said, about the time he noticed himself up on the projection screen. “When we walked in here today, I didn’t know if people were going to show up, and you all showed up, so thank you very much.”
With his charming and engaging nature, he asked to have the light further dimmed and then coached the audience on the chorus to his wildly popular 2009 single “Robots. And what actualized was his vision of a campfire-style singalong involving everyone with a voice.
Ending with “So Much for Everyone,” a haunting and echoing piece from his 2005 album Postcards and Day Dreaming, Dan brought the entire space to a synchronous chant, and he cried out unforgettable words — “I will drop my gun” — to put the finishing touches on an incredible and long-overdue appearance.
Here are images of Dan Mangan performing on, and off, Millennium Stage at The Kennedy Center the night of Jan. 28. 2023. All images copyright and courtesy of Casey Vock.